The Big Read Blog (Archive)

I have been to Green Gables

August 16, 2007
Washington, DC

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Lucy Maud Montgomery is to Canada what Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder are to the United States. And I have just returned from communing with her. As well as with Anne Shirely, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, and of course, Gilbert Blythe. I have been to Avonlea. I have been to Green Gables.

Somewhere in my growing up between Little Women and Little Men, and The Little House on the Prairie there was the little red-haired girl from Prince Edward Island (PEI) known to millions of girls around the world as Anne of Green Gables.

Anne Shirley was the creation of Lucy Maud Montgomery, who as a very little girl was sent to live with her maternal grandparents in Cavendish, PEI, Canada following the death of her mother. Cavendish, and the nearby farmhouse of her elderly cousins, David and Margaret Macneill, became her models for the imaginary town of Avonlea and for Green Gables.

My husband, who can tell you anything you want to know about any character created by Ian Fleming, was happy to accompany me, and came away curious enough to want to read Anne of Green Gables. (He's also happy to come shopping with me and he does the dishes. Can you say ?Prince?? But I digress.)

What's gratifying about a trip to Cavendish is that for the 12-year old girl in all of us (yes, all of us.), it's all there, just as you imagined it. You can hike through the Haunted Woods, stroll down Lovers' Lane, and walk through Green Gables admiring the tidy kitchen, the spartan bedrooms (people not only were shorter then, they had much less closet space and nothing so tacky as a home entertainment center.) and the well-appointed sewing room. The gardens are in full bloom, the barn is equipped to house a cow and make turnip mash -- don't ask -- and the hayloft is stocked for winter.

Down the path through the Haunted Woods lies the actual home site of Lucy Maud Montgomery. The house is gone, but the foundation is there, as are the gardens and interpretive installations detailing her life there. (Anne of Green Gables isn't on the Big Read list of selections, but wouldn't it make an excellent young readers' companion to My Antonia , which is?)

Green Gables in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Photo by Towle Tompkins

As a member of the NEA's Big Read Team (I'm the one who talks to books and the characters in them, remember?), it was exciting to see so many people from across Canada and the United States flocking to this literary landmark. The license plates in the parking lot were from as far away as Manitoba and British Columbia and as near as PEI and Maine. (That one was ours.) We at the NEA often talk about the transformative power of literature. Here's a wonderful example of just that. People who read a book, most of them years ago, were moved and excited enough by that book to travel to the ends of the continent to connect with its origins and its author.

And to my knowledge, Lucy Maud Montgomery and Anne Shirley achieved this fame without ever checking into rehab for multiple DUIs.